Somewhere out there, someone else is sitting at a window, thinking the same thing.
It was probability. All those people, packed in tight together. Experiencing the same things, at the same time, in the same place. Some of them were going to start thinking the same.
Collective consciousness. He’d read about that someplace.
Most likely in one of those magazines they keep in the waiting room.
He always takes a few of them. Just to help pass the night away.
And it had always struck him that the contents seemed better suited to the night, and wondered if anyone ever picked them up during the day and read through them.
Something else he’d read, again in one of those magazines, was that people have a circadian rhythm.
Circadian. When he first saw that word he’d thought of a beetle. Some chirping insect that buzzed you awake in the morning then lulled you to sleep at night.
And he’d been pleased to discover that the idea had not been so far from the truth.
Nightshift work, the article went on to explain, disturbed this natural rhythm. And it turned out this was not good. The human body was not equipped for it. The cardiovascular system in particular.
Which was true. He had felt it. His heart pumping out a complaint. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. His blood vessels straining and stretching, trying to stay awake.
The night, transforming him.
And he saw them all then, sitting at their windows dreaming their collective dream.
One by one they go. Out into the night. A flap of tawny wings lifting them upwards.
That was the word she’d been looking for.
Although perhaps that wouldn’t really have been so appropriate, now she thought of it. That story. What was it again? The man that wakes up as an insect?
Helen might have thought she was insulting her. She could be sensitive that way.
Still, there was no doubt about it. The transformation was astounding.
There were four stones of Helen that simply didn’t exist anymore.
She’d last seen her a year or so ago. Back when Helen was still fat. Because that was the only word you could really use to describe her. There was nothing cruel in it. It was simply true.
Anything else would have just been being polite.
She’d always thought that Helen was okay with it. Her size. She seemed confident. Strident even. Determined to be herself and to hell with what anyone else thought.
In many ways she’d admired it. Helen’s feisty independence.
Not that she could ever allow herself to get so fat. I mean, it wasn’t healthy for a start.
But it was good that there were women like Helen out there. Not giving a damn. Letting the world see that being thin wasn’t the be all and end all, just because you happened to be a girl.
Only now it seemed that it was. After all, there was Helen standing in the street, smiling away at her. Proud even at her achievement. Talking to her about how much she was enjoying “wearing nice clothes like everybody else.”
She had nodded.
“What a difference!”
And they’d said their goodbyes and laughed at how nice it was to bump into one another and how they really had to meet up soon. And she had watched as Helen turned and walked down the high street toting her bags of new clothes.
There was still a slight sway to her hips, and she had smiled at that and thought to herself.
“I’m still thinner.”
“I’m still thinner.”
Jocelyn had come up with that one. And we’d all agreed.
I’d dropped the note in her bag and when she took out her books it had fallen out.
And you could see her welling up when she read it and we’d all sat there and sniggered.
She’d gone on a diet after Suzy and me had caught her eating chips in the canteen.
“I wouldn’t eat those if I were you” Suzy had sniped as we walked past. And the others at the table had all laughed.
She was just that kind of girl. Soft looking. Always holding back. When she laughed, a little trickle of saliva always formed in the corners of her mouth.
So she always had it coming. Nobody liked her.
They spoke to us all, of course. Afterwards. Trying to figure out why it was she had done it. But nobody said anything. I mean, it’s not like you can see a thing like that coming, is it?
For a while though, a counsellor was made available “Just in case anyone needs to talk through any of this.” And Jocelyn and me had looked at one another and shrugged.
I did think though that maybe I should tell her mum one thing.
They had found her with a little pile of money beside her and no-one could figure it out.
Lunch money. I knew that’s what it was.
A tidy sum too.
She holds out her hand to him so he can count it for himself.
“Shit. Is that really it?”
She doesn’t even try to work it out. Five into twenty-four. The sum of it is pretty simple after all. Five into twenty-four equals: not enough.
She makes neat little piles of coins on the table. As if ordering them like that will deprive them of some of their power.
But the facts remain the same and she sighs.
“Listen, I’m closer so I can walk. You get the bus.”
He doesn’t say a word. Just nods.
She thought to say more.
“All this walking will keep me fit.”
But now is not the moment for something glib because she can see he is doing the arithmetic in his head. The return fare, four-pounds eighty, times five. Twenty-four. Exactly twenty-four.
The beg, borrow and steal weeks is what she calls these days.
She has begged a few quid from her mother. “I’ll pay you back next week.” Though they both know this is not true.
She has borrowed a dozen eggs from next door, and is hoping they won’t come knocking, asking for them back, because she hasn’t told him about it, knowing how it would make him feel.
She has stolen biscuits at work from the jar in the kitchen. Which is enough to keep you going.
But there are five more days of this and she’s not sure this time how they’re going to make it.
“What’s for tea?” he asks.
And they both smile, because what else is there to do?
“Steak and chips?”
“Got it in one.”
It’s become their little joke, though with every telling of it, it is wearing thin.
She leaves him sitting there, re-arranging the piles of coins and heads to the kitchen.
The eggs sit in their box in the almost empty fridge.
Carefully she opens it and takes out two.
“Scrambled or fried?” she shouts to him.
And for a moment, she doesn’t know what to do. The eggs in her hands, slightly chilled, feel so light. As if they hold nothing inside and are no more nourishing than air.
“I know! Omelette.”
She cracks the eggs, one by one, into the bowl.
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